Standing tall in the Panchayat town Darasuram in Thanjavur district, this 12th century Shiva temple was built by Raja Raja Chola II, who ruled from 1146 – 1163 CE. The legend of the temple goes like this, the deity here was worshipped by demi-god Indira’s white elephant Airavatam, hence the name Airavateshwara. This monument is one of the Great Living Chola Temples and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Arasalar

Darasuram is located on the banks of River Arasalar, a tributary of River Kaveri. Arasalar separates Darasuram from the iconic town Kumbakonam, well-known for its many ancient temples.

63

Nayanmar Sundarar due to his divine power is taking a child alive from the crocodile's mouth
A story from the life of Nayanmar Sundarar

The temple has miniature panels depicting the life-histories of the 63 Nayanmars as portrayed in Periyapuranam, a literary work by a contemporary Tamil poet Sekkizhar.

Rajagopuram

The main gopuram at the eastern entrance, also known as the Rajagopuram was once a colossal structure with seven storeys. Now the structure lies in ruins. The second inner gopuram which is relatively smaller, with 3 storeys is still intact.

Rajagambhira mandapa

The mukha mandapa at the entrance of the enclosure is also known as the Rajagambhira mandapa. The entry to the mandapa is designed like a chariot pulled by a horse. This design might look similar to the chariot in the Sun Temple, but was built almost a century earlier.

The chariot structure in front of mukha mandapa

The chariot wheel with 32 spokes and the horse pulling it was made from different individual pieces and fit like a jigsaw puzzle.

83

There are 83 pillars in the Rajagambhira mandapa. The Yazhis or the mythical creatures on the outer pillars of the mandapa add to its grandeur.

Vimana

Main Vimana

The structure over the sanctum-sanctorum or the Garbagriha is the vimana. The temple has two vimanas, one for the main deity Shiva and another for his consort. The main vimana is 85 ft tall with four-storeys and a shikara on top.

Basalt Sculptures

Life size basalt sculpture of Kannappa Nayanar
Kannappa Nayanmar

Many sculptures with sharp, distinct features carved from the black shiny stone basalt are found in the temple, in addition to the regular granite sculptures. Life-size basalt sculptures of deities Lakshmi, Ganga, Adigara-nandhi, Kannappa nayanmar, and Saraswathi found in the maha mandapa stand as testimony to the skilled artisans of the Later-Chola period. These sculptures are chiseled from head-to-toe in minutest details.

Story-board

Story of Ravana lifting Kailasa
Story of Ravana lifting Kailasha

One can see the real meaning of story-boards in this picturesque monument, crafted with such aesthetic dexterity. Miniature stories of several Hindu mythologies like Skanda-Purana, Kiratarjuniya, the story of Shiva and Manmatha, Ravana lifting Kailasha are sculpted on small, rectangular story panels throughout the pillars and walls of this temple.

River Goddess

Sculptures of women with a pot in one hand and water waves from the waist down, like a mermaid are found on the vimana. Historians have identified seven such river goddesses.

Buddha Statue

Cholas were great patrons of Buddhism, there is a sculpture of even Buddha in this temple.

Surya as arthanareeswarar

It is common to find arthanareeswarar (half shiva and half Parvati) sculptures in Shiva temples. This temple has portrayed the Sun God Surya as arthanareeswarar.

Do you know

Raja Raja II was also known as Rajagambhira. The temple was initially known as Rajarajeshwaram, then Rarasuram. In due course of time, the town itself came to be known as Darasuram.